Jill Lewis

Silent Conversations

June 22 - July 6 2019

Fanciful, hybrid creatures populate Jill Lewis's intently textured surfaces. Metaphorical significance imbues Jill's imagery and her ‘silent conversations'. 'Painting is my preferred method of communication with the world,' says the Melbourne-based artist. 'I think in pictures.' Jill describes herself as a 'bit of a people watcher,' revealing that it provides abundant inspiration for her art making. 'Observing people's behaviours from a distance can often tell me more about them than hearing their words. I'm interested in body language and facial expressions, particularly those conveyed in different social situations. It's about the position characters take when relating to one another within a particular context and space. For me the canvas equates to such a space.'

Commenting on her subject matter, Jill says that she likes to imagine stories about strangers she sees on public transport, in cafes and elsewhere. The scenarios presented in myths and fables are also influential, so too the pictorial techniques employed by primitive and ancient cultures. She explains that as in Egyptian frescoes, the size and position of her characters within the picture frame can connote their significance in the narrative.

'People are mostly represented by animals in my works,' she continues. 'I often laugh at the body positions and countenances I give when painting them.' Jill confesses that the characters can also display certain insecurities. Many turn away from each other as if eschewing any communication. Conversely, others are so engrossed in conversing that they are quite oblivious to anyone else. Some stare warily out at their audience. The painting, Protectors and Guardians of an Uncomplicated Life, typifies the personality variations Jill has observed. A concern for the impact of technological advances upon human exchanges is particularly evident in If You're Looking for Technology You've Come to the Wrong Town. The work references Jill's 'yearning for a life closer to nature and a time before the internet, augmented reality and artificial intelligence.'

Symbolism invests each painting. 'The bowl is a favourite abstract shape that can be used as a vessel, a hat, a boat or a satellite dish. A very useful shape!' declares Jill. 'As a boat it's giving the impression of a floating journey. When the shape is a hat it signifies thoughts escaping from the head, although still contained. When the bowl is a receptacle, the motif implies ‘plenty', or lack thereof. Presented sideways and repeated in a row, it can represent motion or the passage time.' The painting Unmeasured Moments exemplifies the latter application. Philosophical musings underpin the imagery in this work. 'There is a time element here - transitions between night and day,' reflects Jill. 'The semi-circular, bowl-like shapes along the top and bottom are moving across the canvas from left to right. At the top they're progressing into darkness; at the bottom, the shapes are flowing in a current of water. Time is ticking away but the characters seem unaware. The wise little owl above is not altogether happy about this.'

Speaking of her process, Jill divulges that she rarely begins with a preconceived idea about subject or compositional factors - it's more an intuitive approach, allowing the brushwork to guide her. 'Initially I work fast with a lot of loose random marks, colours, patterns and lines to completely fill the canvas and get rid of the ‘white fright'. I then look at the surface and try to see images. It's not unlike looking at clouds in the sky or at a Rorschach blot.' Once characters are discerned she sets about defining them by subtracting superfluous areas around the forms. Features such as eyes, ears, tails, beaks and feathers are subsequently added to create her idiosyncratic creatures. The final stage is the embellishment of the work with intricate decorative devices.

The resultant paintings are far from mere whimsical anecdotes. Silent Conversations they may be, but the works pulsate with gestural energy. Freed from perspective considerations, figurative and geometric elements conjoin in a spatial ambiguity that generates visual intrigue. Surfaces alive with colour, tactile linear markings and strange, symbolic creatures ensure the viewer's participation.

JACQUELINE HOUGHTON

The exhibition 'Jill Lewis - Silent Conversations' is showing at Anthea Polson Art, Shop 120 Marina Mirage, Seaworld Drive Main Beach QLD 4217 from June 22 - July 6 2019


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